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Does Fan Base Size Make NFL Success More Likely?

This is part four, the final look at how demographics (the statistical study of populations) are currently affecting the NFL, and will likely affect where teams will be relocating, in the next couple of decades. Parts one through three are here, here, and here.

Below is a chart showing the MSA rankings among the 32 NFL cities, followed by the winning percentages, and those rankings among the 32 NFL teams. I did not attempt to refine these stats to account for teams that have moved from one city to another. For example, the Cardinals were in Chicago from 1920-59, then in St. Louis from 1960-87, and then in Phoenix from 1988 to present.

[table id=10 /]


There is some, but not across-the-board, correlation between fan base size (as measured by MSA) and success on the field. Of the five top win-percentage NFL teams — Cowboys, Packers, Bears, Dolphins, Patriots — their SMAs are No. 4, 32, 5, 10, and 12.

Of the five worst winning percentages — Houston, Jacksonville, Atlanta, Phoenix, and Tampa — they rank No. 5, 28, 9, 15, and 19 among NFL SMAs. Other teams that have underachieved are the Redskins, Eagles, and Falcons, who are No. 7, 8, and 9 as to MSA size, but who all have mediocre win percentages.

Utterly defying the premise, Green Bay has by far the smallest SMA, but has the second best win percentage. Other overachievers include: Vikings (18th biggest MSA, but 8th best win %), Ravens (21st biggest MSA, 9th best win %), and Broncos (20th biggest MSA, 7th best win %). All three of these other teams, however, are “relatively” new NFL (or AFL) entrants, at 1961, 1996, and 1960 respectively, so these winning percentages might level off or drop over time.

Of the country’s three biggest metro areas (NY, LA, and Chicago), the Bears and Giants have fared quite well, but not the Jets, Rams, or Chargers.

One part of the premise held fairly true to form: many of the league’s small MSAs, such as Nashville (28th), Jacksonville (29th), New Orleans (30th), and Buffalo (31st) all have win percentages well below .500. This group consists of four relatively new NFL teams, as they came into the league in 1960, 1995, 1967, and 1960 respectively. Tampa Bay, which came into the league in 1976 and has the league’s worst winning percentage, also has a smaller than average-sized MSA (19th of 32).

All in all, the size of a team’s metro area seems to be only a minor factor in the team’s success on the field.

Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.